Accepted Paper:

Picturing the Disappeared: Of Resistance and Remembrance in Post-War Sri Lanka  
Vindhya Buthpitiya (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

The proposed paper seeks to examine the mobilisation of photographs of the missing as objects of memorialisation and resistance within the context of post-war Sri Lanka as a counter-narrative to the triumphalist discourse of the state and its construction of a complementary heritage regime.

Paper long abstract:

Nearly a decade following the conclusion of the Sri Lankan civil war, families of the disappeared in Northern Sri Lanka have marked over 300 days of protest demanding a response from the state. Loved ones of the thousands who disappeared during and in the aftermath of conflict await redress. In Vavuniya and Kilinochchi, where the war-torn landscape has been rapidly transformed by modern infrastructure and grand victory monuments, protesters persevere in roadside dwellings accompanied by striking assemblages of photographic portraits. Still unaccounted for, these Technicolor ghosts of the Sri Lankan war endure.

A new political sociality founded around mourning and remembering persists in acts of resistance by families of the disappeared. Here, photographs, both personal and those required by the state for identity documents, serve as a form of memoralisation, and protest against the state's reluctance to acknowledge the disappeared. The premise of photography as an ideological tool of the state which wields power through documentation and surveillance is subverted by the mobilisation of these photographs as a means of making themselves visible to the state. Their collective gazes challenge the state's narrative, its erasures, and embellishments in the creation of a new post-war heritage regime. As such, where a dominant post-war visual narrative has been actively propagated by the state, everyday photographs have thus become a part of the counter aesthetic of protesting citizens. Drawing on Azoulay's notion of photographic citizenry, this paper seeks to explore how the use of photographs within these protests, and photography of the protests themselves seek to offer a compelling, collective enactment of citizenship.

Panel P026
Participation and Guardianship: On the Ownership of Images in Movement